St Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family

St Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family

23rd December

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to receive Mary into your home as your wife. For this child has been conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

St Matthew’s gospel begins by tracing the ancestry of Christ through his foster-father, St Joseph, who was a descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1-17). He then moves on to tell us the story of Christ’s birth from the perspective of St Joseph. It’s from him that we learn most about the saint who was widely known in his hometown of Nazareth as “the carpenter” (Matthew 13:55).

The story begins as St Joseph, who was due to marry the Virgin Mary, discovers she is pregnant – but not by him. Described as “a just man”, he decided to quietly break off their relationship. But then an angel spoke to him in a dream, saying: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to receive Mary into your home as your wife. For this child has been conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

St Joseph then decided to go ahead with the marriage and take care of his wife and her child. This dedication to his role as father of Christ later led to confusion about the origins of Christ, with people saying: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42)

Recalling the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, Pope Francis wondered if it was inspired by Christ’s positive relationship with St Joseph (Luke 15:11-32). In the parable, the father deeply cared for his son, showed him affection and even threw him a party. Like the father in the parable, who was over the moon to have his son back “safe and sound”, St Joseph suffered “great anxiety” when the twelve-year old Christ went missing (Luke 2:48; 15:20,27).

This stained glass window picturing St Joseph is found with St Mary Magdalene’s, in Bexhill. Produced by Mayer of Munich in 1913, it’s typical of that studio’s style, in terms of its colourful, devotional and almost fairytale quality. In this window, St Joseph holds the viewer in a penetrating gaze while holding a lily, a traditional symbol of purity.

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